A photograph capturing that moment when everything can change suddenly
This article was splitted in two parts, this is part two. Part one was published on 26 April 2019
His style is defined by the “faithfulness to the truth” that originates from his first training in the Lombard art world, where he developed a painting adherent to the truth that had carried forward the approach of scientific painting and Leonardo’s attention to reality. In this work, Caravaggio creates a balanced composition, between the speed of sudden movement and the immobility of the objects that surround him, all of which are analysed in detail. The representation of water in the transparent pitcher through which we see the flower stems and the reflection of the window is extraordinary. Everything is represented in the smallest details from the veins of the leaves to the drops of water to the glare of the eye, everything is worthy of attention and contributes to the truth of the representation. The setting is entirely absent, the figure stands out on a neutral background that helps to highlight the figures.
As is always the case in Caravaggio, the work was carried out without preparatory drawings. Moreover, the colour is applied directly on the canvas, in fact, there are no traces of drawing under the painting but only engraved lines that guided it in the placement of the figures. A fast and certainly revolutionary way of proceeding for the times, and a reason for which he was greatly criticized. Most artists and critics belived that drawing was fundamental in the study and execution of the works.
Light plays an important role. It is both real and symbolic – real because it investigates reality with exactness, and symbolism because it does not illuminate everything in a uniform way, but rather only some parts, giving these a deeper meaning that goes beyond appearance. The light beam comes in from an oblique angel from the left, shaping the shoulder and accentuating the contrast with the shadow of the background, while also emphasizing the forward jerk. Even more interesting is the work carried out with the face, because it cruelly illuminates the right side, while leaving the rest in a shadow. Moreover, it accentuates the deformation of these features. We can then look at the left hand. It emerges from the darkness against the nothingness of the background. The hand is almost entirely in the shade, only a moving finger is lit. On the contrary, the other hand is in full light, with only the bitten finger in the shade. And the reptile itself has a precise meaning. It symbolizes the hidden evil that threatens our life. The fruit, scattered on the table is in the shadow of the child, but where it is struck by light, the reflections illuminate the forms by constructing the volumes. The same rays continue until they reach the vase and show us the source of light – a window on the left, which we do not see, but whose reflection we see on the right side of the pitcher.
Perhaps the work is an allusion to the transience of life and beauty. It could be a warning against the vanity of material goods or the display of the precariousness of beauty that can be taken away in a moment – like the sudden pain that in a moment distorts and deforms the beautiful features of the young man. Some critics believe it is a self-portrait. If this hypothesis were true, we could hypothesize that here the artist represented himself betrayed by the envy and contempt of his detractors. Caravaggio sources often describe him as an irascible man. Moreover, his revolutionary painting divided the minds, there were those who loved him and those who fiercely criticised his work. There was no middle ground for this artist, and this painting is a perfect example.
In this work, Caravaggio staged powerful feelings, the moment that can change life, and this fascinates modern generations, anguished by the precariousness of our existence.
Anna Maria Calabretta